Against the Current, No. 171, July/August 2014

Against the Current, No. 171, July/August 2014

The Ruins of War, Then and Now

— The Editors

THE GREATNESS OF Eugene V. Debs as a socialist and antiwar leader speaks to us across the century since he issued the 1915 appeal “Never Be A Soldier.” Debs was agitating against U.S. entry into the “Great War” that has become known to history as World War I. Debs himself would be sentenced to federal prison for his antiwar politics:

“War is the crimson carnival where the drunken devils are unchained and the snarling dogs are “sicked” upon one another by their brutal masters; where they shoot off one another’s heads, rip open one another’s bellies and receive their baptism of patriotic devotion to their masters’ anointed moneybags in a thousand spurting geysers of their own blood and brains and guts.

“Working men and working women of America!...

Racism Refusing to Go Away

— Malik Miah

“THE WAY TO stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.” — Justice Sonia Sotomayor, from her dissenting opinion after the Supreme Court majority ruled April 22 that states can ban affirmative action in college admissions. Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent and the first Latino to serve on the Supreme Court. She was born and grew up in the South Bronx, New York.

“Liberals today mostly view racism not as an active, distinct evil but as a relative of white poverty and inequality. They ignore the long tradition of this country actively punishing black success — and the elevation of that punishment, in the mid-20th century, to federal policy....

Foreclosure Is Blight!

— Dianne Feeley

WHILE THE MEDIA love to cover stories about the rebounding housing market, the total value of U.S. owner-occupied homes is still $3.6 trillion below what it was eight years ago. Nearly one in five homeowners hold mortgages well above the home’s current market value (“underwater”), and therefore are more likely to default. (See “Underwater America,” Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, University of California Berkeley report, 2014)

With Detroit’s high unemployment rate, median household income of just $26,955 — about half of the national median — and 47% of all homeowners with underwater mortgages, our city suffered at least 5,000 mortgage foreclosures in 2013. An equal number are predicted this year. And just as mortgages are well above market value, city property taxes for owner-occupied homes are based on exorbitant assessments....

Richmond: Company Town or People's Town?

— Dianne Feeley

ON NOVEMBER 4, 2014, voters in Richmond, California will face a momentous choice between a slate of City Council candidates along with mayoral candidate Mike Parker backed by the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) versus candidates heavily backed by the city’s dominant corporation, Chevron. In fact, the outcome may be determined by heavy early voting prior to election day.

Richmond’s outgoing mayor Gayle McLaughlin, a veteran Green Party activist who’s leaving office due to term limits, is part of the “Team Richmond” City Council slate of candidates along with her vice mayor Jovanka Beckles and retired teacher Eduardo Martinez. (see Five City Council spots are up for election, including that of the mayor, who serves on the council....

World War I and Its Century

— Allen Ruff

IN HIS AGE of Extremes, the great Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm marked the start of World War I in August, 1914 as the beginning of the “short twentieth century.”

In Hobsbawm’s account, that short century ended with the reunification of Germany and the breakup of the Soviet “East Bloc” in 1989-90. The “Great War” of 1914-1918, he argued, was the defining event of the century.

With the dismemberment of Yugoslavia underway in the early 1990s as he wrote, Hobsbawm observed that the inter-communal strife reignited in the “Balkan tinderbox” represented the “old chickens of Versailles once again coming home to roost” — meaning that the repercussions of the punitive peace imposed outside Paris in 1919....

Galileo's Revolution

— Ansar Fayyazuddin

THIS YEAR MARKS the 450th anniversary of Galileo’s birth. Modern telescopes, which make visible the far reaches of the universe and take us back in time to the moments when the universe was still small, are related by direct lineage to Galileo, who first turned the telescope heavenward and started asking questions that continue to stir us.

What is the relevance of Galileo today? Why remember him so prominently when so many other important scientists are not? Einstein identifies one set of reasons in his foreword to Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems:

“A man is here revealed who possesses the passionate will, the intelligence, and the courage to stand up as the representative of rational thinking against....

John Handcox, "Sharecropper's Troubadour"

— Robin Lindley interview Michael Honey

“It’s people like John Handcox who will save this human race from the fix we’ve been put in by foolish and short-sighted men.” — Pete Seeger from the Foreword to Sharecropper’s Troubadour

IN THE RIGIDLY segregated Amer­ican South of the early 20th century, inequality and discrimination were the law and African Americans who challenged their subordinate status in this fierce caste system risked intimidation and brutality from economic deprivation and jail to beatings, mutilation, murder, and even mass killings.

At this time, John Handcox (1904-1992), a descendant of African-American slaves and white slave owners, survived....

Review Essay

Utopia and Anti-Utopia

— Angela E. Hubler

THE MAJORITY OF young adult dystopian and utopian fiction is shaped by the Cold War horror of a collective. It’s rare to  encounter a dystopian novel like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (2008) and its sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay: what’s targeted isn’t Cold War-era mind control but economic inequality, totalitarian rule, and oppression maintained by brute force. The novels even depict a revolution that overthrows this oppression.

More surprisingly, The Hunger Games has been on the New York Times best-seller list of children’s series for 161 weeks (at number one for 128 of those weeks) — and was released as a film in 2012, with the first sequel appearing in 2013 and two more based on the third book planned for 2014 and 2015....


Imagining Socialism in Our Lives

— Ann Menasche

Living in a Socialist USA
Edited by Francis Goldin, Debby Smith and Michael Steven Smith
New York: HarperCollins, 2014,294 pages + index, $15.99 paperback.

WITHOUT A COHERENT vision of a better world and the organization that goes with it, even mass protests of ordinary working people in response to injustice will likely go nowhere or worse. Witness the disappointing results of the Arab spring in Egypt, the present mess in the Ukraine and the lack of staying power of promising movements like Occupy.

Thus, the anthology Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA edited by Frances Goldin, Debby Smith and Michael Steven Smith could not have been published at a better time. With its 31 diverse contributions, part of the book’s importance is that it’s put out by a major commercial publishing house — thanks in large measure to the influence of veteran literary agent Frances Goldin — giving it access to a potential audience broader than the already existing left....

Minneapolis 1934 Strike Revisited

— Barry Eidlin

Revolutionary Teamsters:
The Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934
by Bryan D. Palmer
Brill hardcover 2013, 308 pages,
Haymarket Books paper, 2014, $28.

FEW EVENTS LOOM larger in the history of the U.S. Trotskyist-influenced Left than the Minneapolis truck drivers’ strikes of 1934. While often cited within mainstream labor historiography in conjunction with the San Francisco general strike and Toledo Auto-Lite strike as the opening salvos of the working-class upsurge of the 1930s, the Minneapolis strikes take on an outsized role in the Trotskyist imagination.

Here was a case where a movement often forced to struggle at the margins was able to take center stage....

Inside Venezuela's "Proceso"

— Kevin Young

Who Can Stop the Drums?
Urban Social Movements in Chávez’s Venezuela
By Sujatha Fernandes
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010, 336 pages, $24.95 paper.

FOR THOSE WHO want a more equitable and democratic world, 21st-century Venezuela has featured some exciting experiments. The late Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) and his successor Nicolás Maduro have presided over major reductions in poverty and inequality and the creation of new participatory decision-making structures. (

Solidarity and Contradiction

— Seonghee Lim

Transpacific Antiracism:
Afro-Asian Solidarity in 20th-century Black America, Japan, and Okinawa
By Yuichiro Onishi
New York: New York University Press, 2013, 243 pages, $45 hardcover.

YUICHIRO ONISHI’S TRANSPACIFIC Antiracism discovers the voices and actions of what Nikhil Pal Singh calls in his Black is a Country the “worldliness” of Black Radicalism. By studying anti-imperialist movements since World War I in three different places — the United States, Japan, and Okinawa — Onishi examines the underlying aspirations of various oppressed peoples, and their efforts to develop emancipatory ideas and connect themselves in their struggles for freedom,...

Election and Revolution

— Derrick Morrison

Lenin’s Electoral Strategy from Marx and Engels Through the Revolution of 1905 The Ballot, the Streets — or Both
By August H. Nimtz.
Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, 244 pages, $100 hardcover.

Lenin’s Electoral Strategy from 1907 to the October Revolution of 1917 The Ballot, the Streets — or Both
By August H. Nimtz.
Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, 296 pages, $100 hardcover.

IN GREECE’S 2009 national elections, the political party Syriza — Coalition of the Radical Left — captured 4.6% of the vote. Three years later, in 2012, Syriza took 26.7% of the vote, elected 71 people to parliament, and became the second largest party in Greece....

Tribune of the People

— K. Mann

Jean Paul Marat:
Tribune of the French Revolution
By Clifford D. Conner
Revolutionary Lives Series. Pluto Press, 2012, 178 pages, $21 paper.

THE HAUNTING IMAGE of Jean Louis David’s painting of revolutionary tribune Jean-Paul Marat dead in his bathtub, victim of a political assassination, is one of the most enduring of the French revolution.

David, the painter, himself a member of the revolutionary National Convention before succumbing to the allure of Napoleon, portrayed Marat in a timeless manner capturing his enduring image as a revolutionary martyr. At the same time, the painting’s dreamlike feel also reflects the murky legacy of Marat’s role....


Gabriel García Márquez

— Gene H. Bell-Villada

His magic and humor mingled freely with labor strikes and cruel dictatorships, romantic love and ribald sex.

“GABO.” THAT IS how the Colombian novelist — a 1982 Nobel laureate and an unrepentant leftist — was simply and affectionately known across Latin America. The author breathed his last in Mexico City this last April 17, at the age of 87.

Days later, thousands of mourners stood waiting in line to attend the memorial service for Gabriel García Márquez, in the capital city’s Palacio de Bellas Artes. The stately building was aptly decorated with flowers and butterflies, all in yellow....